Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “Death”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Two

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.

Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.

“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”

He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”

Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.

She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.

The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.

Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.

He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?

Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.

She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.

When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.

“Luco, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”

“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”

“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”

She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”

“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”

This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.

Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.

It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.

Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.

Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”

“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”

“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.

There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.

Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”

They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.

“Well?”

“Hmmm…not tonight.”

They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.

“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”

“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”

“Marlee, how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“How do you go on, survive?”

“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”

“Yes.”

She looked into his pain-filled eyes.

“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”

“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?

“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”

“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.

“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.

“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”

“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”

“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”

“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”

“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”

“I know you are. Thank you.”

He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.

I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.

“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”

She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.

“Marlee….”

“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”

There were still too many ghosts.

Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.

She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.

Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?

Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?

Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.

Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.

“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I know, Luco.”

He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.

“Alicia?”

“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.

Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.

“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”

“Are you really here Alicia?”

“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”

“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”

“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”

“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”

“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”

“How can I go on without you?”

“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”

Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.

“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”

A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.

“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”

He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.

“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.

“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”

“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”

“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.

“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”

Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.

“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”

This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.

“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”

“No!”

“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.

“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”

Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Marlee nodded and squeezed his hand, but said nothing.

“And all I could do was watch.”

She was still silent. She was not going to be satisfied with a synopsis, he realized. It was all or nothing and it was too late for ‘nothing.’

“How long were you together?” She was taking him back to Square One.

“Alicia and I met when we were 14. She walked into the classroom and I was in love. That was it, for me anyway. It took her a couple of years to come around.” He smiled at the memory.

“I wanted us to get married as soon as we were out of school. Of course, both families were dead set against it. Alicia was too. She was determined to get an education.

“She wanted to be a nurse. It was all she ever really wanted. Alicia was going to go after her dream and I was not it. If I wanted to be with her I was going to have to wait. So, I waited. While she went to San Francisco State, I went and took some classes at City College and played in a band on weekends. “

“What do you play?”

“Did play. Guitar. We were pretty good. We had two names. When we played a gig in the Mission or someplace Latino we were ‘Besame’ and when we got booked in some rock and roll club we used the English translation of ‘Besame’: ‘Kiss Me.’

“Anyway, Alicia did it. She got her degree in Nursing, with honors and I got an AA degree in waiting, but it was the right thing to do and worth it all.”

“Tell me about your wedding.”

Luco smiled and Marlee let go of his hands. She could see that he needed them free to talk, words alone weren’t enough.

“Our wedding was…spectacular. All of our friends and families were there. About twenty of her classmates from “State” came, as did a bunch of my buddies from City College.

“We were married at Mission Dolores. We had to reserve the church a year and a half ahead of time. The priest who had baptized us both, Father Castillo, married us.

It was just so beautiful. On the invitations we asked everyone to bring some flowers from their gardens or backyards. The altar was overflowing with Lavender, Hibiscus, Shasta Daisies, low carpets of pansies and spears of Giant Sunflowers that, I swear, seemed to be straining to reach the gilded vault of the church. As Alicia came down the aisle our friends handed her flowers. When she reached the front of the aisle her Mother had a ribbon and tied the flowers together to make her bouquet. It was beautiful. The scent of Jasmine and Honeysuckle was everywhere.

“By the time Alicia and I kissed, everyone was crying. I’ve never heard of a wedding getting a standing ovation, but ours did.”

Marlee had to wipe her eyes.

“The band I was in worked a lot and I put aside every penny for the wedding and reception. We rented one of the big dance clubs in the Mission and we all partied until we dropped. There was enough food for an army and the music was almost non-stop. To save time and trouble we invited everyone who lived within complaining distance and I, personally, delivered invitations to the Police Station.

“The reception went on until the next morning. It was a total joy, no problems at all. Of course I thought to hire a few of my Samoan pals to work the door. Nobody messes with Samoans.” He could see a quizzical look on Marlee’s face.

“Each of the guys was big enough to have his own ZIP Code.

“Alicia and I danced. We were so in love it was silly. We went to Disneyland for our honeymoon. You have to visit there someday.”

Now that he had started it was pouring out of him.

“Alicia was able to get work at SF General Hospital. It was only a few blocks from our apartment. I got a job with PG&E, reading gas meters.”

His smile faded and the animation left his voice as he continued.

“It was all we had dreamed of for four years and now we had it all spread out in front of us. I was still playing with ‘Besame’ a lot and Alicia took up painting. She found she had a talent for it. It relaxed her. Our life together was good. Marriage felt so ‘right.’ I don’t think I can express it to you.”

“You’re doing it beautifully. Go on.”

“Alicia worked in the Emergency Room, a very busy place.

“One Friday night she was on the graveyard shift. The Police and Paramedics were bringing someone through the doors every few minutes – gangbangers, junkies and other O.D.s, a few plain old sick people and all kinds of head cases.

“She was part of a team working on some speed freak who felt that he had cockroaches swimming in his bloodstream. He had tried to cut them out with a butcher knife. He was bleeding from everywhere when they brought him in. He was screaming to be left alone.

“Alicia was trying to get a blood sample for typing. She stuck him and, somehow he got a hand free and punched her in the face. She just got up off the floor and went back to the table. The guy pulled the syringe out of his arm and stabbed Alicia in the neck with the needle. An orderly slugged the guy and knocked him out. All of this happened in just a couple of seconds.

“Alicia pulled the syringe out of her neck and started to go get another syringe, to do her job. One of the doctors and another nurse pulled her aside to examine her.

“The needle had punctured an artery and their immediate concern was that air may have been injected into the artery and was now racing through her bloodstream.

“She was aware of her peril, but she kept her cool as an EEG was set up to monitor her brain activity. Blood thinning drugs were pumped into her to, hopefully, reduce the risk of a stroke. Alicia was able to alert the doctor to anything that she was feeling, any potential symptom of trouble. She gave them a calm and professional account of her possible imminent death.

“On the other table the main team worked to save the bastard who stabbed my wife. He died and I’m glad.

“They saved Alicia. There was no air bubble in her blood. She came home and told me what happened. It was the first time I had ever seen her scared like that. Then she told me that the danger wasn’t over.

“Oh, God, those next few weeks were the worst Hell I could have imagined.

“The dead pig that attacked her was HIV Positive. The next day Alicia went in and her blood was drawn for testing. They told us that even if the results came back Negative that she should be tested again regularly for the next six months. It can take time for the virus to show up in testing.

“They started Alicia on a medication regimen. She was taking all kinds of pills. Those HIV drugs are powerful and have some terrible side effects. Her hair began to fall out; she either couldn’t sleep at all or slept around the clock. On top of all that, the animal that caused this also had Hepatitis and she had to take drugs for that.

“A month or so later, after the third HIV test, they told us that she was testing Positive for the virus. There was no doubt.”

“Oh, Luco, I am so sorry.”

“That worthless piece of garbage killed my wife. We were married a little over a year and she was dying.

“That last set of blood screenings also told us that Alicia was pregnant. We wanted to start a family. We prayed for a family. Was this how God answered our prayers?

“The doctors wanted her to abort, but neither of us could do that – Not now, not our baby. Our baby, in the middle of all this madness.”

He wiped away the fresh tears that ran down his cheeks. Marlee handed him a paper napkin. Silently, her heart was breaking for this anguished man.

“To protect our baby, Alicia chose to cut back on some of the AIDS medications. The health and safety of our child became the primary focus. I had to help her choose.

“The pregnancy was very hard on her. The physical part was hard enough, but the psychological side was just as bad. There was anger, hatred even, fear like you can’t imagine, and a sorrow that made our life into a dark room, literally.

“Alicia was at home, but I still had to work. When I would come home she would be sitting in the rocking chair with all the lights off and the shades drawn. It was like a tomb.

“Before all of this we used to joke about her being pregnant and having funny food cravings. You know, the pickles and ice cream thing. She only craved one thing. She asked me to write poems and read them to her. I didn’t know what to do. The only things I ever wrote were a few songs for the band. It would have been a stretch to call them poems. But Alicia begged me and so, I wrote poems for her.

“I would write them in a notebook over coffee or at lunch and read them to her when I got home. I still do it. My poems are a way of keeping a connection with her alive.

“As the pregnancy continued, Alicia began to lose weight rapidly. The doctors were afraid she and our baby might not make it to full term.

“At twenty-eight weeks they did a C-Section. It was awful. Alicia almost died and our baby was a little over two pounds. They wouldn’t let me in the room for the delivery. When I saw him in the incubator he was so small. He didn’t look real. He was ‘Positive’ too.

“Alicia was tough and she insisted on seeing her son. As soon as they let me I put her in a wheelchair and pushed her to meet her baby boy. She cried and laughed at the same time as she put her hand into the incubator to touch him.

“The name tag on his incubator just said ‘Infant Reyes.’ We had picked out a name months before. Father Castillo, who had married us, came to the hospital and we had a baptism there in the ICU. We named our son ‘Regalito.’”

“That’s very pretty,” said Marlee.

“It means ‘Little Gift,’ and that he was.

“After Regalito was born and baptized I think that Alicia was just worn out. The doctors said it was an ‘opportunistic infection’, but I think she just couldn’t take any more.

“I begged her not to leave us. She died when Regalito was a month old. She died in my arms – my helpless, weak and useless arms.

“When she died, Regalito knew. Babies always want to be with their Mothers. Two days later his kidneys failed and he died inside that glass box.”

Luco paused and took a slow sip of water. He was exhausted.

“We had the funerals at Mission Dolores. Everybody brought flowers again.”

Life In An Orange Plastic Bottle

I KNOW THAT THERE IS NOT A LOT I CAN DO ABOUT IT, but I get really tired of taking my daily fistful of meds. Counting Vitamins, and other Supplements I down eight pills with my morning coffee, three with lunch, and six more with dinner. I feel like I am a bulwark of the American Pharmaceutical Industry.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that there are a multitude of people who have to ingest more medications than I do, but I can only live within my own frame of reference. I understand that all these meds that I take serve a purpose – two purposes actually – 1. To keep me from having a neurological blowout at freeway speeds, and 2. To keep my local Pharmacist employed. Both are noble causes indeed.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

STARTING FROM OPPOSITE ENDS OF HAIGHT STREET, Marlee and Luco began to move toward their first meeting on neutral territory. Marlee stopped to look at the lizards in the shop window. She didn’t want to get there first. Let him stand there for a few minutes and wonder if he’d been stood up. She smiled at the thought of the ever-confident Luco standing on the sidewalk, pacing back and forth, impatient and frustrated. Sure, it was a bit cruel, but if he was like every other man, she thought, it would do him some good to cool his heels.

Luco closed his front door and turned left, away from Haight Street. He was so anxious that he was leaving much too early. As he walked around the block to kill some time he talked out loud to himself.

“I’m leaving too early. What’s with me? I don’t want to get there early and have to cool my heels. I hate that. Women never show up early. They always run late. If I was paranoid I’d think they did it on purpose, just to play with our minds.”

Marlee walked past the People’s Cafe. She saw that there was someone new behind the counter – a short strawberry blonde with a figure that proved there is a God. Even through the window Marlee could see that young Paolo, the busboy, was already in love.

Across the street, Mom’s Body Shop was lit up like a Christmas tree. A newly satisfied customer was standing out in front showing off his new tattoos to some other young men. He seemed very happy, but his knees were wobbly and his eyes were shiny. Perhaps getting the “USMC” on his arm would have been enough, Marlee surmised. The screaming eagle was just too many needle pricks for one sitting, even for a new Marine.

Marlee’s smile melted as she looked past the young man who was in need of a few beers to numb the pain. Just coming out of the shop was a familiar face. Looking very serious and buttoning his shirt cuffs, was Dennis Thayer. He looked to his right and left, but never saw Marlee on the far side of the street. He started down Haight in the same direction as Marlee. She lagged a bit to let him get ahead of her. She was still unnerved a bit about his behavior during her brunch. She didn’t want to have to deal with him. Not tonight and not on the street. Tonight was for positive thoughts and warm feelings. He could wait for another day.

Luco stalled as long as he could. Two times around the block and a stop for a quick espresso at a new place over on Waller Street and he was still there early. Marlee was not in sight. The jolt of caffeine from the espresso was adding to his nervousness. He patted his handkerchief at his upper lip.

He poked his head inside the door of Martin Macks.

“Hey, Mary Margaret, has anyone come in here looking for me?” A quartet of slender feminine hands went up into the air, just hoping.

“Hi, Luco,” answered the bartender. “Nobody tonight, unless you want to count the four furies here.”

One of the women at the bar leaned back on her stool, blew him a kiss and licked her lips.

“Evening, Susie. Say hello to Michael and the kids for me.”

He went back to the sidewalk and looked once again for his tardy dinner companion. Instead of Marlee he saw a man walking up the street toward him with a purposeful stride. As he approached the bar the man saw Luco and glared at him.

“Good Evening, Dennis.” Luco put on a cordial smile that wasn’t fooling anybody. He didn’t care.

“Kiss my ass, Reyes.”

“No thanks, Dennis. I’m cutting back on candy.”

Dennis Thayer never stopped walking, but turned his face to Luco. “Some day, Reyes…some day.”

“Yeah, right. Some day your prince will come.”

Dennis kept walking and at the next corner, turned and slowly headed down the hill toward the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

“You know him, Luco?” It was Marlee. She had crossed the street when she saw Dennis turn the corner.

“Marlee. Hi, there. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up.”

“I wouldn’t stand you up. Do you know that man with the curly blonde hair?”

“Oh, yeah. We’ve met.”

“He’s my neighbor. His name is Dennis Thayer.”

“Your neighbor? I know its none of my business, but he’s a bad egg. Nuts, if you ask me. Be careful.”

“I can handle him. How do you know him?”

“He came into the cafe once, stinking drunk and got physical with a tourist. I had to throw him out. He’s 86’d from the place and he holds me responsible.

“Look, enough about him. Miss, would you allow me to escort you inside this fine establishment for some dinner, a beverage or two and some scintillating conversation?”

“Oh, Lord, the man is charming. Sweaty, but charming,” she thought.

“Why, thank you kind stranger. I’d love to join you for dinner.”

“Oh, my she is enchanting,” he thought. “A bit overdressed for the occasion, but enchanting.”

He pulled open the large wooden door and ushered her through, into a place filled with twinkling lights, twinkling people and an irreverent attitude toward all things non-Irish.

At the corner, Dennis Thayer peeked around the edge of the dress shop. He watched Luco hold open the door for Marlee as they went inside.

To get to the dining room they had to run the gauntlet past the bar. The bar was filled, as usual, with people who knew Luco.

“Hi, Luco. Michael says ‘Hi’ and the kids want to know when their Daddy is coming home.”

“Hey, Luco. I see the restraining orders have been lifted.”

“Luco, my love. Rest easy. The test came back negative.”

Throughout this thousand mile walk, Luco kept his eyes focused forward and used his handkerchief to keep the sweat under control. Marlee had a slight smile on her face the entire time.

At long last they reached the end of the bar and Marlee turned to look at Luco. “I’d hate to think what they’d say if they didn’t like you.”

“Me too.”

The hostess picked up two menus and turned to escort them to one of the old wooden banquettes along the wall. As they entered the Dining room Luco turned and looked back over his shoulder. Everyone at the bar had their glasses raised in salute. He smiled and turned back to catch up to the two women. They went to the back booth, the most private.

A waitress took their drink order to the bar and quickly returned with a white wine for Marlee and a Guinness for Luco. The Guinness was as black as night with a thick, sand colored head of foam. Her wine was a California White Zinfandel, grown and pressed not an hours drive away from the lips where now it rested. They exchanged pleasantries about their days activities while they perused the Dinner menu.

“Where’s your infamous ‘Toad In The Hole’, Luco? I don’t see it on the menu.”

A second waitress walked by just as Marlee asked her question and tossed out an answer.

“The pond dried up. Try the lamb.”

“They have a friendly staff.” Luco smiled, things were going… so far, so adequate.

Marlee took the advice of the waitress and ordered the Roast Lamb with Vegetables. Luco settled on the Fish and Chips.

Taking a sip of her wine, Marlee looked at him over the rim of the glass.

“Luco, Why did you ask me out? You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“That’s true, but I could tell right away that you were an interesting, intelligent person. As for you not knowing me? Why did you say ‘yes’?”

“Honestly? I said yes because, when you asked me, you did it so badly that I thought you were terribly inept.”

“What? Well, I…”

“And, you were so cute. That’s it, honest.”

“So, this is a ‘Mercy Date’? You’re here because you feel sorry for me?”

“No! No, I didn’t mean that at all. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. Oh, Dear Lord. Luco I said ‘yes’ because you are a charming man, obviously well liked by both men and women, and…you’re the first man who has asked me out on a date in about 6 years.”

“Six years? You haven’t been in prison, have you?”

“No, of course not. Prison?” She saw that he was smiling and it made her smile in return.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?”

The waitress came to the booth holding two steaming plates. The lamb was tender and well done, not pink and covered with a cloying mint jelly. It was anointed with a light vinaigrette sauce where bruised mint leaves provided just a suggestion of welcome sweetness. The vegetables, new red potatoes and carrots were seasoned with thyme and rosemary. They also benefited from the tangy sauce. The Fish and Chips overflowed the plate with three large pieces of cod in a beer batter that puffed up and offered a crunchy bite on the way down to the white and flaky fillets. The chips were fresh cut and fried slices of Yukon Gold potatoes. It doesn’t get any better.

For the next five minutes the only sounds were words of praise to the chef for his work and prayers to God asking His grace upon the man in the kitchen.

After the initial stunned reaction to the food had subsided, Luco set down his fork and took a long drink from the pint glass.

“So, Marlee, why am I the first man to ask you out in six years? We can eliminate prison, right?”

She nodded as she dabbed her napkin at the corner of her mouth.

“Yes, we can eliminate prison. I’m a widow. I haven’t said that out loud very often.”

“Oh, Marlee, I’m so sorry. I should not have asked.”

“Well, I came here to San Francisco to start a new life and today, not two hours ago, it finally dawned on me that the time was truly right for me to get on with it. Luco, you are witness to my rebirth, as it were.”

“How long ago…?”

“Just about two years.”

The waitress came over to check on her station and got them refills on the wine and Guinness.

For the next forty-five minutes Luco listened as Marlee recounted the story of life and death that brought her to this booth in an Irish pub on Haight Street. She told him details she thought that she had forgotten. Little things, both loving and horrifying.

Several times in the telling she broke down and cried. Luco reached out and held her hand, not knowing what else to do. When she told him of her dream of walking on the beach Luco lowered his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek. His face reddened as he fought for control.

Marlee could see that his tears were not for her, but came from inside his own deep, personal wounds. She reached out and cradled his hands in hers.

The waitresses could see all of this and left them alone. This was a private mourning. The other booths were long empty, the diners having moved on to other, gayer pursuits. There was no rush.

“Luco, what are you carrying inside you? What is it?”

She gently massaged his large, masculine hands. Her touch helped him to lower the flame under the boiling pot of his emotions.

“Marlee, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. That’s never happened before. I’m not the kind of man who gets emotional in public. Your story was so… horrible is the only word I can think of.”

“No need to apologize for being human, Luco. But your tears had nothing to do with me or my story. They came from inside of you. You’re being eaten up from inside.”

“You must think I’m crazy.”

“No, but you’re headed that way.”

He lowered his head and rubbed his eyelids with his fingertips and sighed. He was trying to regain control of his emotions. She recognized what he was doing. She had done it many times herself and wasn’t going to let him shut her out.

“Luco, you sat there for 45 minutes and held my hand while I cried and told you about the worst part of my life. That was the act of a good man and a good friend. Please, let me be a friend to you. Luco, tell me what it is that has you in this prison.

She looked at him, his face still composing itself into a mask of passivity and control. His eyes betrayed him. They were locked on the tabletop. He was reluctant to make eye contact, afraid that…afraid of what? She had opened her life to him She had the courage to let him see her blood soaked memories.

She held his hands firmly, yet with a gentleness that let him know that she cared, could handle whatever he revealed to her and that she could and would understand.

He slowly lifted his eyes and looked at her. Marlee’s eyes were red and still shiny from her own tears. Pale blonde hair spilled forward and framed her face, shutting out everything except what was directly in front of her. Luco could see that he was the total focus of her world at that moment. Nothing else was important. Nothing else mattered. He looked into her eyes and took a deep breath.

“I lost my wife and child a little over six years ago, just before Christmas.”

When It’s Time To Go

“RING AROUND THE ROSEY, A POCKETFUL OF POSEY

ASHES, ASHES, ALL FALL DOWN.”

According to some sources this old nursery rhyme has come down to us from the time when The Plague – The Black Death – swept through Europe killing millions.

“OK, kiddies, let’s all sing about contagious diseases and mass cremations. Ashes, Ashes – All fall down!”

What brought this to mind was a story in the local newspaper.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

In The Haight it is only the early morning hours that belong to the Locals. After 10 AM it is the Tourists who fuel life on the street.

Throughout the day, tour buses pull up and disgorge the packaged groups that move like vacuum cleaners up and down from Central Street to Stanyan, sucking up T-shirts, jewelry and pizza slices, seeing all of the people as a tableau. The tourists stay until the clock dictates a mass migration to Chinatown, North Beach, or Fisherman’s Wharf, where it all begins again.

After the sun goes down the whole vibration of the street changes. The young music-seeking crowd hikes, bikes or drives up the hill and gathers at the clubs and bars. They come also to see and be seen, all the while actively pretending not to care about either.

The Locals and the ambulatory drug slaves also appear after dark. The Locals come out for a nice dinner and to toss back a few drinks. The druggies come out because they think it’s safer. They’re wrong.

It is also in the chilly evening that the costume party begins. After sundown, the hair gel and steel-studded wardrobes make an entrance. On a Saturday night on Haight there will be legions of “Blade Runner” fashion extras on the move. You might also meet several reincarnations of “Marilyn” and even a “Travis Bickel” or two.

In San Francisco the under 30 population is divided, roughly, into two groups. There are those who sashay through the city screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” while the other half struts around snarling, “What are you looking at?”

The folks over 30 tend to just go on with their lives, occasionally snickering to themselves. They already understood that, “If you dress up like a monkey, please don’t pretend to be surprised when people throw peanuts at you.”

Clothes are very important on Haight Street. Going all the way back to the blood and guts days of the late 1960s how you dressed determined who you were, your philosophy and how you were expected to behave. The Haight has always followed along with an “Us vs. Them” school of fashion.

Still today the younger visitors to the area feel obligated to dress up in a way designed, they think, to piss off the Old Man and reduce Momma to tears. Of course, at the end of their evening of being “Us” they will safely return to the fashionable bosom of an Old Navy focused “Them.”

There is, and always has been, a sliver of the Society that is actively outside the widespread embrace of both “Us” and “Them.”

Weaving in and out between the bulk of the population are the true Outlaws. In The Haight these people are the drug suppliers and their customers. It is a very short and brutish food chain. One feeds upon the other without mercy, on a strict cash and carry basis.

The dealers tend to costume themselves like the club crowd. The users rapidly get to the point where their wardrobe selection gives way to the more basic choices of life or death. With rare exceptions, they choose death, by their own hand or by the actions of someone else.

Set in the middle of the hectic bustle of Haight Street, leafy shadows played upon the dark green exterior of Martin Macks Irish Bar and Restaurant. It seemed out of place. It was not there to attract the young hipster crowd or the tourist throngs. It welcomed whoever grabbed the sturdy brass door pulls and ventured into the dimly lit space beyond. One’s social group was never a matter of concern at Martin Macks.

The long bar was always crowded. Some were there for a taste of their favorite brew. Others, intent upon the several European soccer matches being played out on the large televisions placed high on the walls around the pub.

There is a special bar menu that allows a hungry patron to sit on a barstool and select a variety of fried and crunchy items, barbequed spare ribs or a traditional Irish breakfast of Irish bacon, two types of sausage, eggs, tomatoes and Irish soda Bread.

 The breakfast is served until 3:30 in the afternoon in deference to late risers and the survivors of last night.

Luco, along with a fair number of people who work on the street, often dropped into Martin Macks for a quick lunch or a midafternoon pick-me-up.

At the far end of the bar, through a small latticework arch is the dining area. It holds a half dozen semicircular wooden booths and a handful of intimate tables.

The clever chef working in the open kitchen always offers an eclectic menu of Irish, English and American favorites. At night, when the bar is crowded to overflowing, diners in the back can escape the noise and enjoy quiet conversation and some of the best food in San Francisco.

Martin Macks was a popular place for dinner dates. They had good food, generous drinks and waitresses who let couples linger over coffee.

Luco was not used to shaving twice in one day. The skin on his neck was complaining loudly. In the six years he had worked at the People’s Cafe he had gone out with very few women. Some were co-workers, most were customers. All of them felt that he was “the stuff that dreams are made of.” They were right, at least for a night or two. Most of them were looking for “Mr. Right,” but he was only interested in being their “Mr. Right Now.” Their fantasies dried faster than the sheets.

While they were wanting more, Luco was unable to give it to them. Fleeting pleasure was all he could offer or accept. The depth of his ability to commit could be measured in their throaty prayers to a temporary heaven.

Most of the women could live with that. Some could not and so there were mornings when the corner tables at the cafe were taken by women whose eyes followed Luco from across the room and in whose hearts they nursed a barren hope.

This night, however, it was Luco who was feeling the gnawing of lost love. There was, as well, a fresh anticipation. He was nervous about a simple dinner date.

He wondered out loud why tonight felt different. What was it that was making him feel on edge? Was it the word “date” that set off the warning flares?

“I haven’t felt like this in years. For crying out loud, why am I sweating like this?” He took a towel and wiped his forehead and hands again.

What was it about this woman? Attractive? That she was, pretty even, very pretty in her own way. But there had been prettier.

Sexy? She was that, in a relaxed way. It was like she knew that she had the goods, but didn’t feel the need to hang it out like an ad. She had the indefinable “It” that sent out the message. The man in her bed would be in no hurry to roll over and go to sleep.

Smart? No doubt. Spend five minutes with her and you knew that she was educated and as sharp as they come.

Marlee had all of these things, he recognized, but there was also something else that set her apart. A something that was making him sweat.

When he was with her he felt a resonance, a faint emotional echo. There was something about her that played a responsive string in him. Time with her had an almost musical quality.

A quick glance at his wristwatch told him that it was time to stop daydreaming and get moving.

He used the straight razor to deftly finish shaving the hilly contours of his face and cut the few whiskers that always hid out in the cleft on his chin. A few quick strokes and he wiped the last few bits of foam from his face. With a sour look he bit the bullet and splashed on a few drops of Lagerfeld lemon scented aftershave lotion. “Something this expensive shouldn’t hurt so much,” he thought, as every nerve on his face swore revenge.

He riffed through his small closet and decided that basic black was always good. He chose a black ribbed mock turtleneck sweater and black slacks. It would be comfortable and, while complimenting his complexion and eyes, it would not compete with whatever Marlee would be wearing. He knew that the man is really just background for the woman. He trimmed a wayward eyebrow hair.

Less than a mile away Marlee was standing in front of her closet weighing the pros and cons of each item. The silk from Nordstrom was too dressy, the black suit was too “widow.” She decided that the double-breasted blazer made her look like a prison guard at Disneyland. It was hopeless she concluded.

“What does he really mean by “casual” anyway?” “Casual” in Cleveland was apparently different from “casual” in California. If she was to judge by what she had seen walking down Haight Street, “casual” might mean a tie-dye halter top and chrome plated tool belt.

She sat down on her bed and stared at the closet. “I have nothing to wear.”

After 10 minutes of mental mixing and matching she selected a turquoise knit top, a matching linen jacket and white slacks. “This is my idea of ‘casual’ for a dinner date. Let’s hope for the best.”

There was that word again: date. It was a date, no matter what else she called it. She was looking forward to it, but underneath there was a faint shadow of guilt.

It had been almost exactly two years since she became a widow and more than six since she had been on any kind of date. She still saw herself, emotionally, as a married woman and there was a nagging voice saying that she was cheating on her husband. It was her own voice she knew, and that she was wrong. It was time, coldly put, to get over it.

Intellectually as well, she knew that it was time. Her family had told her so. Her friends had also told her the same thing. Hadn’t she uprooted herself and moved across the continent to begin again? She also believed that her dream of the mirror on the beach was Phillip’s way of telling her to throw off her widow’s weeds and get on with her life.

“This is stupid. I’m young, talented, not hard on the eyes, and a very nice and very handsome man has asked me out to dinner. Screw the guilt.”

She opened the closet door again, took the black suit off the hanger, brushed a bit of lint from the lapel, walked into the kitchen and stuffed it into the trash container under the sink. There would be no more funerals.

”Now, let’s just see what ‘casual’ means to this man.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Moving is an exhausting exercise, no matter how little you have and boxes of books always seem to be the last things put away. Now the books were on the shelves. For Marlee, there was only one more thing that needed seeing to: her music.

Music had always been her special, personal refuge. As a child it hid the sound of her parents arguing. As a teen it allowed her to wallow in the lush angst of adolescence. Later it was a way to express her loves and losses. The fact that she had a gift for it made it a pleasure for everyone around her.

When she was a child she had first studied the piano, but it seemed rigid and dwarfed her at the bench. Then came the violin, clarinet and for a few months in Middle School, the alto saxophone. She was taken with its quality, so much like the human voice.

It wasn’t until “band camp” in the summer before 10th grade that she was introduced to the cello. The first time she embraced the honey-colored wood and inhaled the aroma of the sweat and tears left there by those who had held it before, she knew that she was in love and ready to commit.

It was during high school that the extent of her talent became apparent and the encouragement and excitement of her teacher lit the fire in her belly, Music grew from a private hideaway into a transmitter for her creative thought. Her hopes, fears, loves and hates radiated from her fingertips in a melodic frenzy.

The sophomore year flew by in a blur of overheated practice rooms, rehearsals and string quartets. Her talent had found a home and she, a faithful lover who never disappointed. She soon left the quartets behind, as her skills demanded the soloist’s chair.

It wasn’t long before magazines and newspapers discovered the pretty young demon that seemed to wrestle the music from wood and string. They ran stories calling her a “Genius” and “The next Pablo Casals.”

One piece in a Sunday supplement magazine dubbed her the “Concert Hall Barbie.” That offensive diminutive earned a letter demanding an apology. It never came.

Marlee understood the flattering hyperbole and the nonsense of publicity. With the ego-bubble bursting help of her family and her teacher, she learned to keep her perspective and her focus. At her age, that focus was on honing her skills and on selecting the right college.

Universities and colleges around the country always send out small armies of talent scouts, crisscrossing the map. They are looking for more than Quarterbacks and Power Forwards. They also try to uncover and woo young actors, computer whizzes, and promising musicians.

She was recruited by a number of large and prestigious schools, known for producing successful concert musicians. Scholarships were dangled like golden carrots in front of her eyes. The lures of bright lights and faraway places pulled at her.

In the end, she opted to stay in Cleveland, at home, and she accepted the offer of a small Methodist college in the city’s western suburbs.

The school was well respected nationally for its academic standards as well as for the vitality of the under-funded, but first-rate Conservatory of Music.

For all her abilities, drive and onstage self-assurance, she was still a seventeen year old girl who never found the time to develop adolescent crushes and who performed brilliantly at her senior prom, but went home alone when the dancing began.

She had heard an ancient Chinese proverb from her High School band teacher. He was aware that he was passing a real talent on to other teachers at the college level. He knew that there was more for her to learn than he could teach her. Marlee was sad to be leaving his tutelage, but she was feeling the hunger for the next step and was comforted by the relevance of the proverb.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Life at the small college was comfortable, yet challenging. She was thrown together with the best of the best and a scintillating mixture of people from around the country and from overseas. She learned to make friends with people so different from herself that she sometimes felt like she was spending her days on another planet. New social expectations, languages, and points of view were in her face everyday. She quickly got past the culture shock of it all and realized that her new teacher had, indeed, appeared, in the form of the college experience.

This new spice in her life made itself known in her music as well. The other students were her equals, or betters and the Instructors made no allowance for pretty blonde teenagers. She was forced to work hard to keep up. The Music had become difficult.

New techniques, new music and new demands on her time and body made her think of quitting, but the thought of leaving her cello behind ended that afternoon of self-pity.

There was a growing sense of domination in her playing. She no longer forced the music from the cello. Instead she commanded it to, “Arise and walk!” It took her took another level, where she was again moving toward center stage.

Her parents noticed the growth in their daughter. They could see her becoming more confident, daring even, in the pursuit of her goals. In High School she had led an insulated life, buffered by her music. In college, that buffer didn’t work and she had to learn about real life and people. Dead composers and musicians could no longer be her only friends.

Her mother and father also saw their only child becoming a grown woman with a delicate beauty and an effortless sensuality. It was a part of life that Marlee had yet to discover.

Marlee’s allure may have been transparent to her, but there were a lot of testosterone fueled college boys who had watched her walking across campus, moving to the music in her head. The tall, quiet blonde was high on the list of favorite topics among the junior varsity football squad, and a staple in the fantasy life of more than a few of the boys in the brass section.

During her junior year, the same year that she was named to “Who’s Who In America’s Universities And Colleges”, Marlee was attacked, just short of rape, by a boy who played the English Horn. He had seen Marlee working late in the practice rooms in the basement of the Student Union building.

The only thing that saved her from more serious harm was the intervention of several boys from the football team who were on their way to a basement screening room to watch a video of their last game. They saw what was happening and stopped the attack. In doing so they may have saved Marlee’s life. An Exacto knife was found in the horn player’s pocket.

Though traumatized and bruised, she was saved. Her attacker was brutally beaten. His hopes of a musical career were shattered, along with almost every bone in both hands and several others throughout his body.

In the aftermath, Marlee received counseling and signed up for a self-defense course. She was determined to not let this take away her dreams. The English Horn player was expelled from the school and involuntarily committed by his parents. Marlee was advised poorly by the family attorney and did not press charges. The basement practice rooms were put under video surveillance.

In the following academic quarter, one of the rescuing football players enrolled for a class in Music Appreciation in an effort to help his drooping Grade Point Average. At a mandatory recital he saw Marlee onstage and was enchanted, not only by her virtuosity.

After the recital he introduced himself and offered to escort her to her car. In the wake of Marlee’s assault, dozens of school athletes organized an informal escort program, protecting both male and female students at night.

“I appreciate this. I am still a bit nervous walking on campus after dark.”

“Well, people need to feel safe. I’m glad I can help.

“If…if you’re not in a rush or anything, would you like to stop by the Rathskeller for a Coke or something?” He blushed.

Over Coca-Cola and French fries in the campus snack bar Marlee and a young man named Phillip took the first tenuous steps toward a shared fate. He thought that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and she thought that he was big…and cute, especially when he blushed and fumbled as he asked her out on a real date.

Her parents approved of Marlee’s beau. He was polite, thoughtful, hardworking to a fault, and it was evident, from the start, that he adored their daughter. At 6’5” tall and 270 pounds, he was the gentle giant who had saved their baby’s life.

Marlee’s senior year was another defining time. The other seniors were sending out audition tapes to orchestras around the world. Marlee was not. She was conflicted.

The thought of going off to Boston, Lisbon or Sydney to play the cello was exciting, but it would mean leaving behind her home, family and the strapping young man with whom she felt safe and truly loved. That she could not do.

So, she sent out one resume and tape to a local Post Office box in reply to an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

An enthusiastic letter in response to her tape and a perfunctory audition won her the lead chair position with a new organization: The Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. There was no assurance that there would ever be a second season for the group, but while it was there, she was their Star and she was able to be with Phillip.

It was no secret that the Less than Dean’s List accounting majors didn’t enjoy the mobility and caché of a cello virtuoso.

Phillip sent out more than 300 resumes. Four drew hopeful responses. He blushed and sputtered his way through the interviews. The lone job offer came from a Cleveland company owned by an alumnus of the college and a football fan. Phillip, desperate to not look desperate accepted the offer and became the new “Junior Assistant Accounts Payable Clerk” at the Borkovic Tool And Die Company.

They had waited until after graduation to talk marriage. He tried to bring it up, but he couldn’t locate the words. Sensing his discomfort, Marlee did it for him.

It was an early autumn afternoon, while her parents were at a Harvest Festival by the Lakeshore, that Marlee discovered something else for which she possessed center stage talent.

Marlee unleashed the erotic desires that made her thank the gods for the elastic thighs of a cellist.

They both knew the importance of practice and lost no opportunity. She brought home Ravel and, on the living room floor, Phillip finally learned the true meaning of Music Appreciation.

Their wedding was small, money was an issue, and they honeymooned at a Bed and Breakfast on Catawba Island in the middle of Lake Erie. It was enough.

Things went well for the young couple. She had her music and a microscopic salary from the Orchestra. Her husband was becoming a competent number cruncher and it looked like he might have an actual future at Borkovic Tool And Die.

She took on a few students to perk up the ledger page. She actually enjoyed tutoring young musicians. It made her appreciate the precision and reliability of a great composition.

Marlee and Phillip knew that they would never be rich, but that was all right, as long as they had each other. They held each other at night and dreamed the same dreams.

Life in Cleveland was happy. They made the plans of young people in love. Their families and friends said that they were a “perfect couple.” Imperfection seeks out perfection.

It was hot and muggy on the night of August the third, but the recital would be in an air-conditioned hall. One of Marlee’s students was doing his first solo and she had to be there. Phillip always accompanied her to her musical events and she went with him to the Browns games. They each shared in what was important to the other. On the night of August the third it all ended on a shady street in a “very good neighborhood” when a young lost and bewildered addict stepped out of the darkness and tore the world apart.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

“Luco. Hi. What a nice surprise. What’s that man doing up on that pole?”

Without taking his eyes from hers, he answered.

“I’d say he’s about to do a half-gainer into the sidewalk.”

“I don’t think I want to see that.”

“No. Let’s not watch. Let me buy you a cool drink. It’s hot out here.”

Marlee had just finished an iced tea, but she didn’t decline his offer.

As they walked they alternated between long minutes of silence and moments when they talked on top of each other.

“Marlee, have you enjoyed the street fair, so far?”

“Yes, I have. I’m not sure that I quite understand it all, but it has been… fun.”

“Good. It can be a bit daunting the first time you experience it. Actually, this year’s fair is rather calm.”

“A man hanging from a light pole, ready to fall into the street, is calm?”

“Well…he hasn’t fallen yet.”

“That’s the standard measurement? If he doesn’t fall to his death, things are calm?”

“Pretty much, but this is The Haight, so the calibration may be a bit screwed to the weird side of the scale.”

“I’m picking up on that.”

Sensing that Marlee wasn’t sharing his blasé acceptance of The Haight’s laissez-faire attitude toward life and death, Luco changed the subject.

“Tell me, Marlee. Just about everyone in San Francisco is into the Arts: Music, Acting, Painting, and so on. What is your Art?”

“I’m a musician. I play the cello.”

“Really? Professionally or just for the beauty of it?”

“Both. I was with the Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. I haven’t really played since my move here. I miss it.”

“Have you auditioned anywhere yet? There must be someplace that can use a talented cellist?”

“I need to get back in shape before I audition for anything. The cello can sound really awful if you’re not in top form. I need a place to practice.”

“Hmmm…I know that there are spaces over here on Page Street, at the old Gumption Theater space. I know that they have practice rooms. A lot of rock and rollers use them.”

I wasn’t aware of that, thank you. It would be convenient.”

“I’m a good man to know in The Haight.”

“So I gather.”

“And, I know that Pete, the owner of the People’s Café wants to put on some live music a couple nights a week. Interested?”

“Sure. Why not? It might be fun. Thanks, Luco.”

They shared a relaxed smile.

“Marlee, have you had anything to eat yet?”

“No. Any recommendations for a newcomer like me?”

Actually Yes, Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

“Dreams or heartburn nightmares?”

“He’s right over there.”

Luco lifted his hand, using the book of poetry as a pointer. Marlee recognized the cover.

“‘Sonnets From The Portuguese?’ I would never have guessed you to be a fan of Browning.”

“What? Oh, this? I bought this for a friend. It’s not really my style.”

“A friend? I’m sure she is.”

“Actually…,” started Luco, but a sharply accented voice cut him off.

“Luco, my old friend!”

Through a thick pall of white smoke arising from the collection of barbeque grills, Marlee could make out the portly figure of a man, red-faced and sweating.

“Luco, come here,” called out the smoky-eyed chef.

Cutting through the frenetic crowd, Luco, taking Marlee by the hand, guided them over to the busy food stand. They went around to the side, close to where Mike Koberski was keeping tabs on dozens of spicy sausages as they popped and hissed in the flames. Mike waved a large stainless steel barbecue fork in greeting.

“Hiya, Mike. How’s business?”

“Today will be a great day, nice and warm.” He eyed Marlee through the smoke. “How’s your day, Luco?”

“Just fine. Mike, This is Marlee Owens, a newcomer to the street and to the Fair.”

Mike smiled and nodded. A large drop of sweat fell from his chin and sizzled on the grill.

“Welcome, Marlee. I see you’ve already met the most eligible bachelor in The Haight.”

Marlee smiled back and shot a quick glance at Luco, who looked a bit embarrassed, even though he was laughing.

“Nice to meet you, Mike and I don’t think that Luco is all that eligible. I hear he’s going steady with himself.”

Mike roared.

“You’re OK, girl. Have a ‘basa, on me.”

One bite of Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ and Marlee felt homesick for Cleveland. Both Mike and Luco were taken aback watching Marlee down the sausage without blinking an eye. Most people had a cold beer on the side to douse the fiery spices.

“Mike,” said Marlee, wiping her mouth daintily, enjoying the astonished looks on the men’s faces. “That was great, but Luco said you had a ‘Flaming’ kielbasa that is supposed to be really hot.”

“That was it,” stammered Mike.

“Oh? Well…it was very nice. I’m from Cleveland and we’d call that a ‘mild’ kielbasa. Very nice. I’m sure the little kids love them.”

Mike and Luco looked at each other, not quite knowing what to say. Marlee stood there, smiling sweetly at them, enjoying their confusion.

“One more thing, Mike. Give me a beer. My mouth is on fire.”

He handed her a cup of Bud Light and she poured it down her throat, not stopping to breathe. Both men started to laugh. After finishing the beer Marlee coughed and wiped her eyes.

“I had you two guys going there for a minute, didn’t I? Jesus H., Mike. What do you put in those things, napalm?”

“Yep,” said Mike. “Not far from it. Old family recipe. A fine mix of spices that will make the kielbasa nice and hot or take the rust off of any chrome surface.”

Marlee took a paper napkin from the counter and wiped at her eyes.

“Well, Mike, if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll know who to blame.”

“No matter how chilly it gets tonight when the fog comes in, you’ll be warm and comfortable,” added Luco.

Mike reached out and grabbed Luco’s arm.

“Christ, I almost forgot. Luco, I was hoping I’d see you today. I need your help.”

“You got it. What can I do, Mike?”

Mike turned to Marlee who was beginning to lose the flush from her cheeks as the fiery spices subsided.

“Marlee, you like sports? Baseball?”

“Sure. Baseball is life. The rest is details.”

“Great. Luco, I got two tickets to the Giants game next Saturday. I can’t go. Some family thing my wife forgot to tell me about until last night, but maybe you and Marlee might like to go?”

He looked at Luco and then at Marlee, and back again at Luco. Feeling a bit cornered, Luco finally spoke.

“Well…it sounds good to me. What about it, Marlee? Care to see our beautiful ballpark?”

Her initial reaction was negative. She didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole afternoon with a man she perceived as a depressed lothario, but it was a public place and it had been quite a while since she had been to a big league game.

“Who are they playing?”

“The Cardinals. It’ll be a great game,” said Mike, reaching into his shirt pocket for the tickets.

Marlee let a smile out for some fresh air.

“All right, Luco. If you promise to be a gentleman, I’ll go with you to the game.”

Luco bowed to Marlee. “I will be such a gentleman that you won’t even recognize me.”

Mike handed a slim white envelope to Luco as he winked flirtatiously at Marlee.

“Here you go. Enjoy the game for me. I’ll be sitting in a lawn chair in San Jose, sweating like a pig and eating birthday cake.”

“Thank you, Mike,” said Luco, “And I promise to behave myself, Marlee. I won’t climb any light poles while we’re together.”

“You better not, Bucko, because I won’t catch you if you fall.”

“’Bucko?’” Luco looked at Mike who was trying to not laugh as he turned a grill full of sausages.

Despite all of her misgivings and alarm bells, Marlee had to admit that she was attracted to the dark-haired barista. There was something about him. Several somethings, in fact, that had her emotions caught in a small tug-of-war between her mind and her heart. She was drawn to him on a very basic, physical level, while at the same time there were things about him that told her to walk the other way.

That book of sonnets in his hand was obviously for some other woman. His glibness with female customers and their intimations of breathless, passionate liaisons bothered her.
But, she thought, nothing could be safer and noncommittal than a few hours inside a stadium filled with 40,000 screaming baseball fans. Any smooth moves there would be easily deflected amid the chaos and Cracker Jack.

After a Day to Remember, one filled with music, colors and new friends Marlee walked with the flow of people heading home. Her trek was thankfully only one block. The sensory indulgence was exhausting and she was grateful that her apartment was so close.

She checked her mailbox and slowly climbed the stairs up to her door…which was standing wide open. Her heart skipped a beat as she hurried up from the landing. There was no sound coming from inside the apartment. She moved slowly through the open door straining to hear anything or anyone. She had her keys bristling in her clenched fist. There was no one in her bathroom. A quick glance said the same for the kitchen. She could see that the living room was empty. That left just her bedroom and its closed door. The only sound she could hear were those rising up from the street just outside her windows. She rested her hand on the doorknob. On Haight Street a Diesel bus roared away from the bus stop as Marlee turned the knob and pushed open the door.

The bedroom was empty. There was nobody in her apartment, but she was cringing with the sensation that someone had been there. Nothing seemed to be missing. Everything was as she had left it just a few hours ago. It was all the same, but there was a difference. It wasn’t until two days later that she noticed that her copy of “Leaves of Grass,” the one she thought was missing, was in its place on her bookshelf.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen

 

“Oh, come on, John. I kind of feel sorry for him. He has his troubles. I admit that he is a bit weird but…”

Dawn took up where John left off.

“Marlee, Hon, he’s a real head case. Half the stores on Haight won’t let him through the door.”

Marlee saw their sincerity, along with the dash of fear in Dawn’s eyes. Looking back across the Haight Street she could see Dennis waving his arms, arguing with the tattooed clerk. A small cloud of doubt drifted into Marlee’s mind.

The clerk was getting tired of the same nonsensical routine. Her growing flush of anger was giving her tattoo snake an unreal ruddiness.

“Man, every time you come in here it’s the same crap. I’ll tell you one more time and if you don’t like it you can take your freaky business elsewhere. The price for the ‘tat’ is $65 – a one inch skull. There is no freaking ‘frequent flier’ discount. And one more thing…”

“What’s that, Sideshow?”

“Why do you always get the same tattoo every time, you Creep?”

“None of your business. Do you want it to be your business? I can arrange that for you, you little junkie.”

“Do you want the damned tattoo or not, Cretin?”

“Yes, I want the tattoo. Why else would I ever come in here, Skank?”

“To flirt with the help, maybe?” She smiled and flicked out her pierced tongue. “Paper or plastic, Twitch?”

“Plastic today.” He handed over a Visa card and she swiped it into the register. “Let’s get to work, Tiger.”

They disappeared behind the counter, out of sight from Marlee’s view in the People’s Cafe.

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Say No More

I WAS DOING SOME MISCELLANEOUS RESEARCH THE OTHER DAY. “Miscellaneous” in the sense that I was just hopscotching around looking at this and that with no particular goal in mind. While I was roaming about I bumped into a compilation called, “Famous Last Words.”

About 90% of the listed “Words” were noble, erudite, and sounded more like Press Releases than someone’s actual farewell statements. I would think that in reality most people’s real “Last Words” are grunts, simple “I love you” declarations, and expressions of surprise like, “Uh, Oh,” or “What is happening?”

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Throwback Thursday From Feb. 2015 – “Stop The Freakin’ Presses!!”

monk mummy 2

Throwback Thursday From Feb. 2015 – “Stop The Freakin’ Presses!!”

“THE AMAZINGLY INTACT REMAINS of a meditating monk have been discovered in the Songinokhairkhan province of Mongolia, according to a report in Mongolia’s Morning News.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I want news from Songinokhairkhan province, I turn to the Mongolia’s Morning News.

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Throwback Thursday From Feb. 2015 – “And The Award Goes To…”

darwin_awards

Throwback Thursday From Feb. 2015 – “And The Award Goes To…”

I WAS JUST RANDOMLY TIPTOEING through the Internet the other day when I came across a news item that made me stop.

Police say a 55-year-old southwestern Michigan woman who died after accidentally shooting herself in the head in January was adjusting a handgun in her bra holster at the time.”

I’m familiar with the practice of carrying a concealed weapon, but I would think that you would want the gun to be easily accessible. But, then again, I wasn’t there to see just how accessible things were with her. I’m glad I wasn’t there. I would have called the 911 emergency line, but I think I might have had trouble explaining what happened.

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It’s A Good Day To Play It Safe

HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY!

Unless you live in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania today is just another Friday. If you do live in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania then this is the one day in the year that anyone gives a hedgehog’s patoot about your town. Today is the day when the Network Morning Shows will give you a 90 second live cutaway to see the annual Groundhog ceremony…and then that’s it until next year.

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Throwback Thursday from Dec. 2015 – “What Is That Smell?”

 

 

Throwback Thursday from Dec. 2015 – “What Is That Smell?”

 

toxic AvengerI’M A PRETTY EASY GOING GUY – at least I try to be. I’m a firm believer in a “Live and Let Live” approach to life. That said, there are some people I want to take outside and pound the living crap out of.

The one who comes to mind is a complete stranger.

As you have already figured out, if you have followed this blog for more than a week or two – I start off too many days down the street at St. Arbucks having my morning coffee. I look upon that time as precious to me. It is a time for me to creep, unassailed, into the day. Recently my time for quiet reflection and contemplative folderol has been attacked by one particular yutz.

The Yutz of whom I speak comes into the sacred Chapel of St. Arbucks carrying with him a toxic cloud of the “Cologne From Hell.” I thought things like that had been outlawed decades ago by The Geneva Convention, along with Mustard Gas and Chlorine Gas.

When he comes through the door my eyes begin to water, my lungs burn and my chromosomes start to reshuffle the genetic deck.

I cannot imagine that he thinks that his choice of Cologne actually smells good. Birds fall from the sky when he passes. Kittens are born with extra paws. Cacti curl up and die.

One day he passed within mere feet of where I was sitting and, I swear, his vapor trail changed the prescription on my glasses.

After he leaves with his coffee I have seen people crawl to the door on the opposite side of the building, gasping for air like a Carp that has been left on the shore for 20 minutes. It is not pretty.

Where does he buy this cologne? I think it is called “Eau de Beelzebub.” I’m sure that I have never seen it displayed in any store with one of those little free sampler bottles. One spritz of that and the store would call in a Haz-Mat team. He must get it online from somewhere in North Korea. No friendly nation would ever send it across our borders.

I’d wager that this walking Zone of Death must live and work alone. Who would ever, in a million years, move in with him, let alone work with him? All I can think of is that he must live under a bridge somewhere near the sewage treatment plant and work as a telephone solicitor.

At the beginning I said that I wanted to take him outside and throttle him – that is not true. I have a life that I would not want to jeopardize by possibly making actual physical contact with him. Getting too close or, Heaven forbid, actually touching the skin that has been toxified by his cologne must be the equivalent of stuffing a thousand pounds of nuclear waste in your trousers and then rolling around in a wading pool filled with Mountain Dew.

Like I said, I’m a gentle soul and easy going guy, but whenever I see that guy coming I want to call in an airstrike.

Someone told me that I should say something to him about the…stench is too mild a word…the…Instant Gag Reflex Trigger, tell him that it is a bit strong. I would be willing to do that if I didn’t already know that, in close proximity to him, I lose the ability to speak. All I can manage are incoherent squeals and glottal spasms.

Being the peaceful person that I am I have, so far, resisted the effort being made by some others to raid the “tip jar” and hire a hitman.

All I can say is that this fellow is becoming the Johnny Appleseed of Civil Unrest and Coffee-Loving Vigilantism. Pray for us.toxic cloud

Fiction Saturday – Boxer – Conclusion 

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Conclusion

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“What about…” He looked at Gloria who had walked into the room and was standing by the kitchen door with her arms crossed. “Our two – visitors?”

“They’re, uh, in the trunk.” Walker leaned forward ignoring the pain.

“What trunk? My trunk? The Cadillac? You put those dead bodies in the trunk of my Cadillac?” Gloria stood up straight.

“Dead bodies? What dead bodies? She asked. Her words stuck in her throat. “Terry, what dead bodies? You didn’t say anything about dead bodies. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.” She hugged herself and started to rock back and forth. She was already on the verge of crumbling. “Oh, Terry.”

Walker lost it. “Shut up, you stupid Gin Blossom! Terry, shut her up. I need to think.”

“Gloria, please. He needs to think. I’ve messed things up. I’m sorry.”

Gloria looked at Terry. “You’ve messed things up? What about this jackass sitting on our couch? He’s the one who’s messed things up, not you.”

Walker picked up one of the small pillows from the sofa and threw it at her.  “Hey, Blondie, shut up. Get out of here. Go do something useful. Go slit your wrists.”

“Do something useful? I’ll do something useful right now.” In two steps she was in front of the sofa and she delivered a sharp left jab onto Walkers bandaged shoulder. He let out a short scream before he passed out. “Now that’s something useful, you, Mr.’My Cadillac.’”

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“I’ll let you in, but I don’t have to like it.”  –Gloria Dumbaugh

 

“No. No. No. Are you crazy, Terry?  What are you thinking? This man has been shot? He’s not a lost puppy You can’t just bring him home.”

Gloria was pissed.

“I don’t know what else I can do, Hon. He’s my Boss. Look, he’s out cold. I got something I gotta do. Just a few minutes. He won’t be any trouble, I promise. Just keep him on the bed.”

“Our bed you mean.”

OK, on the couch then. I gotta go. It’s important.”

“Terry, he’s been shot. What if he dies on me? What then?”

Terry ran his bandaged fingers through his hair. He wanted to run away. “He won’t die. Doc patched him up. See all that tape? He’ll be good as new in no time.” He set the shirtless, unconscious man on her couch. “Hon, I really gotta go. I’ll bring you back some ice cream.”

“Terry, No, you can’t…” She stopped. She knew it was useless. “Butter Pecan.”

Terry took the Cadillac. He wished it was his. Maybe someday. He parked in the alley behind Walker’s office, right back where it had been before all this mess started.

Inside Walker’s office nothing had changed. The dead guy hit with the shotgun was still dead and was going to stay that way. The Fat Guy by the door was…where was he? Terry started to sweat again and talk to himself.

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“Mr. Walker? You’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I know, Einstein. My arm. I need to see Doc. Can you drive?”

“Sure. Keys?”

“In my left coat pocket. You’ll have to get them. I’m parked in back – dark green Cadillac. Let’s go.”

“What about them?” Terry asked, pointing with the baseball bat at the two men on the floor.

“Later. They don’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. C’mon, help me up.”

Terry picked up the dead man’s pistol and set it on the desk. Walker slipped it into his right coat pocket.

 

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”  — Al Capone

 

Doc shook his head. “I can’t do that. Not here. You need to go to the hospital.” He looked pale and hung over. That explained again why he never finished medical school.

“Doc, you gotta do something for him. He’s been bleeding all over the place. He passed out on the way over here.”

“Oh, Jesus, Terry, I can maybe try to stop the bleeding, but that’s about it.” Doc gave the unconscious man a quick eyeball check. “That slug is still in him. Probably stuck in a bone. I can’t deal with that here.”

“Do what you can, Doc. I’ll take him to the clinic, I promise.”

“No hospital. No hospital.” Walker had stirred. He was awake enough to hear what was being said. “No hospital. They’ll call the Police.

“Mr. Walker.” Terry wiped his hands on his pant leg. He was sweating like he had gone fifteen rounds. “Mr. Walker, Doc says that the bullet is still in your arm up by your shoulder. No offense, Doc, but Mr. Walker, you need a real doctor.”

Walker was barely able to stay awake. He shook his head. His eyes were only half open. “No hospital. I’ve got two dead bodies in my office. How do I explain that?”

“What?” Doc took a step back from both men. “What? You two have to get out of here. If the police bust me I’ll die in prison. You have to go. Now. Get out.”

“Terry, he’s right. In my wallet there’s a card…a card. Dr. Wycoff. Call him. Take me there.”

“Wycoff? He’s a Veterinarian,” half shouted Doc, “A horse doctor.”

“Terry, do what I tell you. Call him. Call him and then I’ll…” He passed out again.

“Doc, what should I do? He’s my Boss. If he dies I’m out of work, but if I take him to the hospital we’re both in hot water. Doc?

Doc opened a cupboard and took down a box of latex gloves. “He needs a real doctor, but that Wycoff is an old drunk who’d kill him for sure – if he wasn’t dead by the time you got him there. Damn it. Let me see what I can do.”

The two men lifted the unconscious and bleeding man up onto Doc’s kitchen table. Doc took some scissors and started cutting off Walker’s coat and shirt. Terry moved back and stood there watching and worrying.

“I’ll try to stop the bleeding. That’s first, and then we’ll see if I can at least find that bullet. It’d be a snap if I had an X-Ray.”

Ten minutes later Doc had stopped the bleeding, and after poking around he could tell that the bullet fired by the dead man, the very dead man, still in Walker’s office looking for his face, was lodged in the joint where the upper arm connects into the shoulder.

“Well, Terry, that’s about all I can do. I can see where the bullet is, but…”

“Can you get it out, Doc? That would help him a lot wouldn’t it?”

“I said I know where it is, but it might as well be on the moon. No, I’ve done what I can here, Terry. Thanks to you he is still alive, but he needs more than either of us can do.”

“I think I’d make a good Corner Man, Doc.”

“Yeah, but nobody ever got shot at in the Boxing ring.”

Doc stripped off his latex gloves and tossed them into a wastebasket half filled with empty bottles. He looked at his unconscious patient and at Terry. Standing next to his Boss Terry looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“What to do now, Doc? My Boss needs an X-Ray and there’s two stiffs in his office.”

“Not good, Terry.”

“Yeah, Mr. Walker took out the one that shot him – with his sawed-off. It’s a mess. I got the other one, a big fat guy, with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, Terry, this is getting worse by the minute.’

“Could I just leave, Mr. Walker here for a while, you know…?”

“No. No way you can leave him here. Where does he live? Does he have a family?”

“Jeez, Doc, I don’t know where he lives. I’ve only seen him at his office or at ringside. Family? I don’t know that either.”

Lying on the table, Walker was coming to a bit. He was moaning. His arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged. He was drooling.

“Terry, you have to go, both of you. I’ll help you get him out to your car.”

 

Finger Lickin’ Good

 

I JUST READ THE DARNDEST THING – a restaurant review that made me lose my appetite.

Straight from the home town of Godzilla and Hello Kitty comes a story that, under other circumstances would probably reconvene the courtrooms of Nuremberg. (Under 40? Look it up.)

The restaurant named “Resoto Ototo No Shoky Ryohin” has opened its doors in Tokyo and somehow gotten all of the usual permits and government approval to become the first eatery in the world to legally serve (Brace Yourself) Human meat. The name of the restaurant translates into English as “Edible Brother.”

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Now I know why tigers eat their young.”  —  Al Capone

 

Once the night faded away the streets were wet and the sky promised more. Terry Jarosz was at his Boss’s office at 8:30. He had slept on Gloria’s couch for a few hours using the three grand as a pillow. He dreamed that the money was his, but he knew it wasn’t and now he was at the office to turn it in and get his cut – five percent. The Boss was waiting for him.

“Did you get it all, Terry? Three grand?”

Terry nodded and emptied his pockets out onto the desk.  The last two dollars was in quarters. “I got it all, Mr. Walker.”

“Good job, Terry.” He looked at the Boxer’s bandaged fists. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to your hands? Was he hiding the money in a meat grinder?”

Terry looked at his bandages. They were feeling tight. He was swelling.

“No. He got physical with me, him and one of his boys. I’m OK. I’ll take it easy for a day or two and I’ll be OK.”

“I hope so. You look like you went twelve rounds with the Marines.”

“I’m OK, Mr. Walker. A hundred-fifty dollars?”

Walker peeled off a couple of wrinkled Fifties and the rest in Twenties and Sawbucks.

“Five percent of three thousand – a hundred-fifty dollars.” He threw in an extra Twenty. “A bonus – to cover the cost of your bandages, Terry. Take your girl out for a nice dinner.”

“OK. Thanks Mr. Walker. I’ll do that. I’ll be ready to go again in no time.”

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Blowing In The Wind

I DON’T KNOW WHY, BUT DINNERTIME CONVERSATIONS can sure get weird. The other night as the family was scarfing down some basic Comfort Food the flow of the conversation took a definite turn to the unusual.

“If you get cremated what do you want done with your ashes?

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